Returning to Mexico: Why Mexican Immigrants Are Leaving the US
Returning to Mexico: Why Mexican Immigrants Are Leaving the US

WASHINGTON—Last year’s debate on immigration reform centered on discussions on improving border security for the nearly 2,000-mile border between the United States and Mexico by adding new fencing, more electronic detection technology including drones, and beefed-up numbers of security patrol. 

These concerns to secure the border presume that large numbers of Mexicans are highly motivated to leave their homeland, come to the United States, and never leave. 

A new study challenges that assumption.

The U.S./Mexico Cycle: End of an Era” concludes that the days of massive legal and illegal immigration from Mexico have ended and are not likely to return. Hence, it is called “the end of an era,” according to Aracely Garcia-Granados, executive director of Mexicans and Americans Thinking Together (MATT), which conducted the study in collaboration with Southern Methodist University.

The study confirms what a Pew Hispanic Center study first reported in 2012: The net emigration of Mexicans to the United States has slowed if not reversed, and that many Mexicans residing in the United States are going back home in historic numbers. 

“We are not going to have a tsunami of Mexicans moving to the borders and staying here forever and ever. The numbers show that is not going to happen,” Garcia-Granados said. 

Garcia-Granados spoke at the Wilson Center on Jan. 14 and Jan. 17 to report preliminary results on the study that was released in December 2013.

The value of the new report is that it reveals surprising reasons for the new trend in Mexico–U.S. migration. Economic motives for leaving the United States and deportation were not among the top reasons. The reasons were generally much more personal.

The findings are based on interviews with 601 returnees from the state of Jalisco, which has the highest return migrant population in Mexico among the Mexican states. The MATT website states that this is the first study to investigate the factors driving the return of Mexican immigrants to Mexico.

Reverse Migration, 2005–2010

For three or four decades, the pattern has been a cycle of migration with the net result of a record number of Mexicans to the United States. By 2007, there were 12.7 million Mexicans living in this country—most of whom came illegally. 

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, the migration patterns came to a standstill. In the five-year period from 2005 to 2010, 1.4 million people migrated from Mexico to the United States, down from 3 million in the five-year period from 1995 to 2000, and about the same number—1.4 million—moved from the United States to Mexico, up from 670,000 in 1995 to 2000. 

By 2010, the U.S.-born population residing in Mexico had increased to 739,000 compared to 343,000 in 2000.

Return Voluntarily: 89 Percent

Some 77 percent of the respondents in the survey were undocumented when they came to the United States. Still, deportation and the fear of deportation were not mentioned very frequently for the reason for returning.

“A full 89 percent chose to return to Mexico on their own despite the general belief that most returned through deportation,” states the MATT website. Only 11 percent had been deported.

The figure of 89 percent in Jalisco may come as a surprise to most observers. Garcia-Granados put it in context when she said that other preliminary data found that states closer to the border had proportionately more deportees among the returnees. However, she estimate that the worst case would still be 60 percent return voluntarily.

The top three reasons for return migration were family reasons (37 percent), nostalgia for their country of origin (29 percent), and difficulty in finding a job in the United States (11 percent). Only 1.7 percent said being discriminated against or racism was a reason for their return.

Mexican migration has always been circular, with most people intending to return to Mexico, according to experts. The MATT survey confirmed this intention with 68 percent of the sample saying they had intended to migrate temporarily. Only 16 percent said they had intended to migrate to the United States permanently.

Nearly one-half of the respondents (47 percent) said that the quality of life improved considerably while living in the United States. “But many are drawn emotionally to return to Mexico after 1–5 years, and most enjoy slightly higher incomes in Mexico upon their return than what they were earning in Mexico prior to migration,” states the study.

“Few receive support services for reintegration from government or community based organizations; most rely on family and friends to help them through the transition,” states the study.

Even though more than one-half of the respondents (54 percent) left family behind, the study found a strong desire to remain in Mexico. According to the study, “54 percent intend to stay in Mexico permanently and 17 percent said they will never return.”

Characteristics of the Sample

Most of the returning Mexicans in the survey said they migrated to the United States to look for employment (64 percent), better work prospects (48 percent), and a better salary (41 percent). These were the reasons most often mentioned. 

While in the United States, 91 percent worked and held jobs. The respondents in the survey were almost entirely of working age; 95 percent were between the ages of 18 and 49.

The respondents fell in the lower end of the economic scale, holding low-wage jobs in the states. Two-thirds (66 percent) had only elementary or middle school education. Forty-three percent said they could not read English at all.

More than three-quarters of the sample were undocumented when they first entered the United States. About 15 percent came through a tourist visa.

“Compared with other immigrants to the U.S., Mexican-born immigrants are younger, poorer, less-educated, less likely to be fluent in English, and less likely to be naturalized citizens,” states the study.

Limitations of the MATT Study

MATT’s report is not a full-fledged research report but rather “preliminary findings and insights.” The study is limited to the state of Jalisco in central Mexico because it has the highest return migrant population among the Mexican states. The fact that the interviewees were all drawn from Jalisco means inferences from the sample may not be representative of the whole of returnees to Mexico. 

“With its diverse mix of metropolitan, mid-size, and rural cities, Jalisco served as a foundational model for future studies MATT is planning to conduct in additional Mexican states,” states the MATT website.

A sample size of 601 is rather small for making precise estimates of the percentages reported in the study’s findings. If the sampling design is random sampling or approximating a random sampling design, estimates would range between plus and minus 4 percent, while subgroups’ percentages would be still less precise. 

MATT does not describe itself primarily as a research organization, but rather as a “bi-national nonprofit, with offices in San Antonio, Texas, and Mexico City, that is dedicated to leading the conversation on the issues that are having a profound effect on both the U.S. and Mexico.” 

In other words, it is a kind of civic organization. MATT seeks to design and implement “initiatives for economic development, cultural interaction, education, and social outreach,” according to its website.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Epoch Times.

  • Robin Cohen

    If only it were that simple. We also have many illegals from other Latino countries who still risk riding under trains to come here. There was a big article in the NY Times about six months ago about this.

    • allison1050

      Too many Americans think that anyone who speaks Spanish is from Mexico.

      • Robin Cohen

        I know better. I also know that illegals may come from non-Spanish speaking countries. Illegals do not have the right to ignore our immigration laws wherever they are from and they have no right to demand citizenship. Citizenship is a privilege, not a right.

        • allison1050

          When you listen to the politicians and read comments if one didn’t know any better (which most of them don’t) you’d think that the entire country of Mexico was banging on the door which they aren’t. There’s never ever any discussion of illegals coming from other countries have you noticed that?

          • Robin Cohen

            Yes, I have. I have also noticed that illegals from Spanish speaking countries APPEAR to be the most vocal about insisting that they have a RIGHT to American citizenship, which is incorrect, no matter what country one comes from.

  • RockyFjord

    Mexicans come and work for a period, sending all their wages home. $10 per hour becomes 130 pesos an hour in Mexico. So after working here in US for five years, they go back and have a fortune, buying farms or businesses or mansions. Registered nurses from Mexico City come to Florida to work at McDonalds, until they send home 30 some thousand dollars, to buy
    three bedroom with pool in Mexico City, the equivalent of a 300,000 dollar house in US. But
    it’s extremely unfair to American workers whose wages cannot be exchanged times the factor of 13. These massive waves of migrations 10 million at a time, were not without incentives from American employers, anymore than sending all our factories and jobs to China were. It
    was done in a calculated motive to bust Labor and Unions, which they have done. The beneficiaries of this global trade in labor, are the elite Wall St banksters and billionaires.

    • epazote

      130 pesos= $10.00 US there is no “factor of 13” as you assert. It’s the current rate of exchange $1.00 US=13 pesos
      There are NO “$30 some thousand dollar” houses in Mexico. There ARE projects built for low and mid level workers with mortgages backed by the Mexican Gov’t. Very small, self contained units averaging 50 sq mts/500 sq ft for a 2 bedroom built on a 1,400 sq ft lot. These units are sold unfinished (no kitchen fixtures/appliances/cabinets/closets, no lighting fixtures, no carpets/tile/floor coverings (bare concrete) Average price is $45k in US dollars
      A $300k home in the USA would cost approx. $150k-$200k for the same home in any of Mexico’s urban areas.
      A RN in Mexico earns roughly $16 hr, with benefits (health/eyecare/dental at a cost of $34 US a month, vacation, retirement fund, and the annual Aguinaldo paid each Dec=to between 1-4 weeks wage depending on # of years employed. Of course, the difference in living costs places US and Mexico’s RN on approximately equal ground.

      • RockyFjord

        Well, we have a RN from Mexico City, with a couple kids, they all work at McDonalds. Florida. They are sending all their wages home, and have a
        3 bedroom with pool picked out. Living cost on equal ground? If that were true then one dollar should equal one peso. Well, Mexicans don’t leave their jobs in Mexico to come here illegally, for the fun of it. It’s about making far more money than in Mexico. The money gets sent home and does nothing at all for the American economy. I don’t like it. People should stay in their own countries; that’s why we have nations. If they want to emigrate, let them go through the system and become citizens before invading in mass hordes.

        • epazote

          Then why didn’t you and your ancestors “stay in your own countries”? (or at the least, your own hemisphere ?) If your ancestors weren’t in the Americas before 1608 you’re a member of the “invading in mass hordes” squatters on our lands devouring our resources and destroying the environment.
          regards,
          epazote,
          Proud Rappahannock
          *me thinks your McDonald’s” Mexican RN” is lleno de mentiras or suenos grande.

          • RockyFjord

            Why my ancestors didn’t is recorded by history. But if it was wrong to steal the Amerind’s land then, allowing others to do it today is wrong too. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Plenty of stealing of land in central, and south America as well. The Quatemalans genocided 100,000 Mayan Amerinds to steal their land. Well, it also wasn’t your land,but land of the northern tribes; neither are you innocent since you are misceginated descendents of Spanish invaders yourself.
            Assuming you are from south of the border and missceginated, not Amerind. Anyhow, Mexico is a nation state, if you are born there, that is your country. Should have practiced birth control, and not overrun another nation’s borders. Well, anyhow…

          • epazote

            Rappahannock are NOT “misceginated descendants of Spanish invaders”…but rather the indigenous people of Virginia (those first impacted by the English and Dutch invaders who first waded ashore at Jamestown in 1608, and continue to arrive 406 years on).

            Learn some history and geography

          • RockyFjord

            I just read a good history — Stone and Kuznick’s Untold History of the United States. I am well aware of how the Indians were pushed off. They did push each other around for that matter, massacring as well, I recall reading. I can’t justify what was done to them. Nor what has been done to the Vietnamese or Iraqis or Iranians with CIA assistance in the Iran/Iraq war. The Mongols were bloody awful to put it mildly; the Romans at Carthegena avenging an earlier massacre.
            History is full of it, and still it continues unabated, the US being the worst perpetrator. To be cynical about it, maybe the US deserves to be overrun by Mexicans with their drug cartels and corrupt government as well? They do not appear to be any higher form of moral human being. The corporations and government colluded in a fascist state, is the first problem to attack in my perception. Then important environmental crises like world over population and nuclear energy, whether Fukushimas or bombs. I would be for giving Texas back to Mexico, from whom it was stolen by conquest, but we’d need someone with more vision than current crop of organisms running things for any meaningful change. I am
            in favor of Elizabeth Warren for President, who has Amerind blood,
            though it’s her humanity and decency that qualify her, not race.
            I respect your perspective, and I also have mine based upon my experiences.

          • epazote

            Good morning Rocky,
            Thanks for your reply…seems we’ve found common ground overall.
            I agree Elizabeth Warren would be a good choice BUT the USA isn’t going to see a populist President in my lifetime, and female candidate still has a hard row to hoe with gaining traction amongst the all too many neocon/evangelical/conservative voters. Nope, the 2016 election will offer a *choice* between 2 corporatists, again.

            Found some interesting data re; the amount of money being “sent home” from the USA Jan-Aug 2013 source; Agencia Reforma, published 03 Oct 2013
            #1. India $71 billion sent from friends & family in the USA
            #2 China $60 billion ” ” ” ” ” ”
            #3 Philippine Islands $26 billion ” ” ” ”
            #4 Mexico $22 billion ” ” ” ”
            As to Canada’s First Nations people, “Native Americans” and all other indigenous peoples of the Americas…we are all one people. The only difference is birthplace, not genetics
            There’s a wealth of data from NIH, PubMed, Universities etc in support
            I suggest you search “The uniqueness of Amerindians according to HLA genes and the peopling of the Americas”.

            Stay well, I’m certain we’ll cross paths again

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